Wood's burning desire for Ryder Cup glory
Darren Clarke has been a mentor for Chris Wood since the very start of the Englishman’s professional career, so when the Ryder Cup rookie steps onto the first tee for the first time at Hazeltine, there is no one he would rather be fighting for on the front lines.
The towering Bristolian’s glorious home victory at the BMW PGA Championship last May went a long way in securing his place on the Northern Irishman’s European team for golf’s greatest team event, but it was just two days after his recent marriage when Wood got the confirmation he had longed for.
To top off a life-changing weekend, Wood received a text from Clarke to congratulate him on his nuptials, as well as for officially securing his spot in The Ryder Cup team. It was the culmination of a long-standing friendship between the two which certainly bodes well for Europe later this month.
“I actually played a round at Wentworth with Clarkey the week before I turned professional,” he said. “So he’s sort of been there since the start of my professional career, somebody who I’ve been able to speak to - I’ve been over to Portrush for the day with him, just the two of us playing.
“To play my first Ryder Cup when he is captain is just awesome. There’s no other captain that I’d want to win for more than Darren.
“Although I’ve been in the team for two months now, I got my neck injury and I wasn’t playing and your mind starts wondering – you’re not playing and you’re losing points, people are catching up, so it wasn’t the best final two months of qualifying for me, but to finally have it cemented was a massive relief.
“Darren sent me a text on the morning after the Czech Masters – we’d got married on the Saturday and then he sent me a text on the Monday.”
One of six rookies on Clarke’s team, 28 year old Wood is a relatively quiet and composed figure on the European Tour circuit, but – having played numerous team sports as a kid – he admits that he misses the atmosphere and camaraderie that comes with playing alongside team-mates.
His competitive spirit, allied with his dry but very apparent sense of humour and an unbreakable bond with the captain, means Wood has the potential to be a Ryder Cup hero in waiting.
“I’d like to think once I get into the team stuff, my character comes out a bit more,” he said. “I’m probably quite a quiet person and I don’t really show much emotion on the golf course but once I’m in that sort of environment with 11 of the guys, the caddies, the vice-captains, everyone, I think I’ll be in my element.
“I think it’s always the case that we’re underdogs. On paper you look at our team and we’re going to have six rookies but we can play. It’s not like we’re no good, we can play. The American team went through a bit of a transition, a bit of a changing of the guard four or five years ago.
“It’s bound to happen in Europe and it’s probably fallen this year but I still think we’ve got a strong team. You look at the players, Thomas Pieters is playing so well, Danny, myself, Fitz, Sully – we’ve got some really strong rookies in there.
“I saw a picture of the first tee on Twitter, it’s starting to take shape and it’s going to be like nothing else I’ve experienced, along with the five other rookies. I’m sure Clarkey, Poults, Thomas, Paul and Sam, they’re going to have things to prepare us for that moment.
“If we play our own games we’ll certainly give them a good run. Obviously it’s going to be a little harder given we’re away, we’ve got some rookies. But Europe always comes together and I think Darren has shown that with his three picks.
“He’s gone for Martin and Lee who have got big Ryder Cup experience and Thomas, a full-time European Tour Member. The Ryder Cup brings the European Tour players together and that will always be the case. That’s as good as a 13th man I think.”